When people manipulate relationships, it is often for their gain. For instance, someone in a romantic relationship can keep manipulating their partner because they want them to do what they want.
One of the popular forms of manipulation in any relationship is triangulation.
Triangulation is a manipulation tactic and an unhealthy strategy commonly used by narcissists to introduce a third party for sympathy, solidarity, or support.
In this article, you will learn what triangulation in relationships means. You will also learn the signs to help you recognize this form of manipulation and some tips on how to cope if you are in this situation.
What does Triangulation mean?
Triangulation can have different meanings, but the end goal is for the manipulator or narcissist to have a field day in any situation or conflict they find themselves.
Triangulation can occur when one of the parties in a conflict tries to introduce a middle person or third party to make them take sides. Usually, the emotional abuser does this for deflection, so the other party will eventually get the blame.
When a third person is introduced into the mix, it might be difficult to get a balanced view of the issue because the narcissist might have twisted the narrative to suit them.
Also, an individual can triangulate by talking to a third party and advising them to take necessary actions toward someone. But, again, their goal is to manipulate so they can get what they want out of any relationship.
Identifying the signs of triangulation in relationships will help you be more aware when you find yourself in some situations.
It is important to note that some key features of triangulation narcissism are insecurity, manipulation, competition, etc.
Here are some of the signs of toxic triangulation in relationships
1. They always involve a third party to mediate
The person manipulating will always want to involve a third party to take their side. As a result, they will often tell the third party their side of the story without allowing their partner to relate theirs.
Hence, the third party will inadvertently give their verdict based on the side of the story that they heard.
Furthermore, this manipulative strategy will prevent the innocent partner from defending themselves because the third party has been bought over already.
Narcissists always avoid communicating one-on-one with their partners and solving any current issue. But they will always reach out to a third party for intervention. When they are wrong, they will employ all means to avoid being on the losing side.
2. They indirectly compare you with others
In triangulation psychology, when a manipulative person wants you to bend to their will, they may try to compare you.
However, they won’t directly state the comparison so that you don’t feel hurt; instead, they will be diplomatic about it.
They might pretend to talk harmlessly about someone’s traits or good sides so that you will begin to evaluate your life to see if you are meeting the expected standards.
Also, even though they don’t highlight your shortcomings, they will try to speak generally about some negative traits that they don’t appreciate.
3. You feel pressured to do their bidding
When you notice that you are compelled to do what they want, or you find yourself thinking of how to please them, it is one of the signs of triangulation in relationships.
Most narcissists lay the foundation for this by using manipulative statements and leaving you to figure out what they mean.
Another thing you will notice is they are hardly satisfied with you. They may keep correcting and manipulating till you are out of ideas.
Some individuals might use triangulation in relationships to control or influence their partners. The manipulator or triangulator brings a third party into a relationship mix so that they can take their side. Unfortunately, this leaves the other partner defenseless since they have no one to support them.
When someone in a relationship experiences triangulation, they may begin to worry about what people think. Therefore, they may begin to feel defensive, ashamed, or humiliated.
Some might even feel pressured to explain themselves to others, which may turn out poorly for them.
The perpetrator usually knows you may act out of fear to set the record straight. So, they could be patient for you to commit an error, so they can leverage that to prove their point.
To learn more about Triangulation in Relationships and how narcissists use it to their advantage, check out this research study by Nicholas J.S. Day and other authors. This study is titled Living with Pathological narcissism: a qualitative study. It is a robust research into the personality trait of narcissists.
It is not enough to recognize the signs of triangulation in relationships; learning how they can show up is important.
You might face a case of toxic triangulation, and knowing how to find your way out is crucial.
Here are some examples of triangulation abuse in different types of relationships.
1. Parents and children
If a narcissistic parent has children, you can easily detect when a triangulation relationship is in play.
For example, a narcissistic parent might employ strategies to put the child in a situation where they have to choose between both parents.
The other parent might get frustrated and quit the relationship. Also, the narcissistic parent can apply emotional triangulation to buy the child’s love.
For instance, they can permit the child to do things the other parent has abhorred. When this happens repeatedly, the child will be drawn to the parent that permits them to do what they want.
In a single-parent setting, the narcissistic parent can also make the child or children believe that the partner who left is at fault. Overall, the goal of the manipulative parent is to create an atmosphere in the home where they are in control and never at fault.
2. Romantic relationships
Narcissists often use triangulation in relationships to exert control over their partners. It is quite uncommon to see narcissists use physical means of abuse or violence because they want their partner to do their bidding.
Rather, they revert to manipulative means like triangulation, gaslighting, etc., to put their partner in check.
For instance, they can tell their partner that their ex is trying to get back with them. Then, they try to use this information to their advantage for their partner to get scared that they might lose them probably.
Also, a triangulation narcissist might be smart not to compare their partners with their ex to avoid conflicts directly. However, they will pass some comments that motivate their partners to work harder and perform better than their ex.
If there is conflict in the relationship, the emotionally abusive partner will try to invite a third party and make them take their sides. So, even if their partner were not wrong, they would have to apologize for peace to reign and to protect their good name.
Triangulation in friendships is quite similar to what happens in romantic relationships. If there are a group of friends, the narcissist or manipulator may try to get everyone on their side for maximum support when there is a conflict.
When they are not on good terms with someone, they may talk about them behind their backs to gain the needed alliance.
Triangulation in relationships like friendships is often exploited to create rivalry among people. So, instead of directly communicating with someone, they will bring in a third party and force them to take their side.
How to cope with Triangulation
When you notice the signs of narcissistic triangulation, the next step is learning how to respond effectively. It is crucial to mention that narcissists will always be looking out for your response, so if you do it the wrong way, they can capitalize on it.
Importantly, you are the only person who wields the power to stop triangulation. Your disposition towards this manipulative behavior determines if the narcissist will stop or continue.
They will only make you feel miserable with your permission, and you can always protect yourself from triangulation emotional abuse.
Here are some strategies that can help you cope with triangulation.
1. Communicate honestly and openly with them
Letting the narcissist know that you are onto them can be tricky, so you must make up your mind, be honest, and be open with your words.
It would be best to let them know that their behavior affects you and your disposition towards the relationship.
They should be aware that you know what they are up to; hence, they need to stop it before it deeply damages the relationship. Before you communicate with them, ensure that the atmosphere or setting is comfortable.
It is also vital that the narcissist does not predict what you are about to discuss so that they won’t be elusive with their statements.
2. Seek a healthy support system
When it comes to triangulation manipulation, it can be tough dealing with the situation alone. Therefore, you must seek help from the right sources to stand strong.
Therefore, you can begin by getting in touch with people in similar situations.
Doing this will help you cope properly while you undergo triangulation in relationships. If the narcissist has spread rumors or lies about you, it is vital to clear the air.
This is why you need the right people in your corner who can also vouch for you.
Don’t leave out your side of the story when conversing with your support system. Instead, remain calm and avoid playing the same cards as the manipulative person.
It might be difficult to prevent triangulation in relationships, but you can set some boundaries to protect yourself.
First, you need to know that even though you are not communicating with them, they can still spread some lies about you.
So, even though you want to ignore what they have said about you, you need some boundaries to prevent a future occurrence. You can begin by putting off attempts to manipulate or bait you.
Then, once you know their pattern, you can keep protecting yourself from manipulation.
Additionally, prevent them from giving overblown praises or compliments. If they are trying to put up a competition, humbly pull out of it.
Lastly, avoid sharing intimate or personal information with them so they won’t add it to their tactics against you.
Watch this video on how to create boundaries in relationships:
Is triangulation the same as emotional abuse?
Triangulation is one of the tools that some people use to inflict emotional abuse.
When an individual experiences triangulation in relationships, it can expose them to experience other types of emotional abuse like guilt, living in denial, gaslighting, isolation, etc. Also, triangulation can cause unhealthy relationships and partnerships.
The abuser wants the victim to work hard so that they can gain their admiration or respect. This will enable the abuser to control or manipulate the victim for their gain.
Ramani Durvasula’s book, Should I Stay or Should I Go, is an eye-opener for people experiencing narcissistic triangulation. This book can be regarded as a survival guide for people to make the right choices in their relationships.
Some people who experience triangulation in relationships are unaware that some of the events in their union were planned out by the abuser to achieve a goal.
It can be disappointing to discover that all your efforts in the relationship have been to meet up to the standards of the narcissist or abuser.
However, after learning the signs and examples of triangulation in relationships, you can now tell if you are in a similar situation.
With the tips mentioned in this piece, coping with triangulation could become easier, and with some external help like a counselor, you might be out of the woods in no time.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Rachael Pace is a noted relationship writer associated with Marriage.com. She provides inspiration, support, and empowerment in the form of motivational articles and essays. Rachael enjoys studying the evolution of loving partnerships and is passionate about writing on them. She believes that everyone should make room for love in their lives and encourages couples to work on overcoming their challenges together.